ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
One issue that came up a lot in last night’s debate was a police practice known as stop-and-frisk. Donald Trump says stop-and-frisk could help in cities like Chicago where crime is rising. He said it helped bring down the crime rate in New York City.
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DONALD TRUMP: But stop-and-frisk had a tremendous impact on the safety of New York City, tremendous beyond belief. So when you say it has no impact, it really did. It had a very, very big impact.
SHAPIRO: A federal judge found that the strategy as used in New York broke the law, a fact Hillary Clinton pointed out.
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HILLARY CLINTON: Stop-and-frisk was found to be unconstitutional and in part because it was ineffective. It did not do what it needed to do.
SHAPIRO: Now, to talk us through the history of stop-and-frisk is NPR’s justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie. Hi, Ari. Let’s start with the definition. What is stop-and-frisk exactly?
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Under a famous 1968 Supreme Court case known as Terry v. Ohio, police can stop people if they have a reasonable suspicion they’re involved in a crime, and police can frisk or pat down those people if they suspect they have a weapon. But the practice has been kind of controversial – stop-and-frisk – especially as it’s worked in New York City.
SHAPIRO: And what did the judge actually decide in the case in New York?
JOHNSON: So back in 2013, a federal district court judge found stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional as it was practiced by police in New York. The judge also ruled that police were using it kind of in a way to discriminate on the basis of race, a form of racial profiling, really. Researchers found that more than 3 in 4 people stopped by police using the practice in New York were black or Hispanic. And police actually made very few arrests and recovered only a tiny number of illegal guns from the people that they stopped and patted down.
The city wound up appealing that judge’s ruling. A new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was elected, and he decided to drop the case, settle with civil rights groups. So a higher-level court never ruled on the practice itself.
SHAPIRO: And in New York have police mostly abandoned the practice?
JOHNSON: Well, police can still stop people if they have that reasonable suspicion, but cops in New York City are doing it a lot less often than they used to. Back in 2011, 685,000 people were stopped, many of them, that judge said, for no good reason.
JOHNSON: There was some back and forth last night about whether it actually works, whether stop-and-frisk does reduce crime. What do the statistics show about that?
JOHNSON: Well, Donald Trump and one of his key advisers, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have been promoting this idea of stop-and-frisk, saying it contributed to a huge decline in violence in New York in recent years. But their case isn’t so clear because crime started dropping before the start of stop-and-frisk in, you know, a widespread way, and it continued dropping.
A spokesman for the NYPD pointed out on Twitter last night that since 2011 when stop and frisks began to decline and ultimately did by 97 percent, crime continued to drop, too. That spokesman, Peter Donald, said murders and shootings and other crimes have decreased significantly during the same period that police started walking away from widespread stop-and-frisk.
So now, Ari, the open question is whether this practice of stop-and-frisk can be used in a way by police that is not racial profiling, not widespread, not indiscriminate.
SHAPIRO: Hillary Clinton last night said stop-and-frisk also hurts the relationship between police and minority communities. What evidence is there to support or undermine that?
JOHNSON: Anecdotally there’s been a lot of talk in New York City and elsewhere from people of color who were stopped walking on the street for really no good reason, how that’s created a lot of suspicion and tension between themselves and law enforcement.
President Obama created this task force on policing earlier in his tenure. They talked about the importance of building trust with communities, making sure that people feel they’re treated fairly. The task force says when you lose that trust as a law enforcement officer, you lose cooperation from the community. Fewer witnesses will come forward, making the crime problem even worse.
SHAPIRO: NPR’s Carrie Johnson, thanks as always.
JOHNSON: You’re welcome.
SHAPIRO: And NPR’s live coverage of the presidential debates continues next Tuesday for the vice presidential debate.
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